Social Media Does Not Accurately Reflect Society
Depending on how much time you spend on social media. This statement may shock you. If you have a life and go outside this has been obvious for a long time.
Why such a big disconnect?
Because when you use social media for a majority of your time. You start to think that is actually how the world works. Because most of the data points you are getting about the world is from the internet. This starts to create problems because of a term you heard 10 million times: Echo Chambers and outrage.
The echo chamber is an issue because of a promotion of a certain worldview above everything else. Leading to a less accurate assessment of the world. So stories that conflict with the group’s worldview are filtered out. Leading to a skewed sense of how the world works.
Another is outrage. While social media adds some fire to this issue. Outrage has been a powerful emotion since the beginning of time. So ginning up that emotion has been useful for various people for centuries. The main traders of the outrage right now is the media.
As they are creating clickbait articles knowing this will upset part of the population. (They are some economic pressures pushing media companies to do this though.) Social media comes into the mix because it simply serves what the people want. The most shared and clicked content is outrage. So it will make sense that the algorithms will get used to showing outrage content.
If you are watching a lot of angry content online. You think the world is falling apart. (Granted, 2020 was an exceptional year). Hence you will think this or that group is going to take over the country.
You start to think your country is on the brink. All of this alarmism does not match reality if you simply step outside your house. The stats bear this out. In Enlightenment Now, Steven Pinker did a great job explaining how the world is getting better. But fewer people dying of cholera does not make the headlines. But a random idiot on Twitter will.
A Minority People Run The Show On Social Media
To be fair it’s not just the journalists that are in on this. There is a whole cottage industry of outrage marketers. Simply reading a few news articles and ranting about how they don’t like what they’re reading. There some people on Twitter where their whole existence is to take a left-wing or right-wing stand for the news of the day. Regardless of the story. Leading to some very stupid statements. If these outrage hustlers all were pop up on your feed. Then no wonder why you think your country is going through some issues and is going crazy.
For me, a landmark find by Pew Research centre was a demographic breakdown of social media networks.
I will talk about Twitter because it has lots of cultural clout and has important people as it’s their main communication medium.
Only a minority of Twitter users tweet on a regular basis. As we can see only a small minority of people even tweet about politics. The top 10% of Twitter accounts are likely to produce 138 tweets per month!
Honestly, I don’t know how anybody can do that. But if that’s you fill your boots.
Mark Marson calls this the 90/9/1 rule:
The 90/9/1 rule finds that in any social network or online community, 1% of the users generate 90% of the content, 9% of the users create 10% of the content, and the other 90% of people are mostly silent observers.
Meanwhile, the lurkers — the 90% — are people who are more or less reasonable. And because they are more or less reasonable, they don’t see the point in spending their afternoon arguing on Facebook. They aren’t sure of their beliefs and remain open to alternatives. And because they are open to alternatives, they are hesitant to publicly post something they may not fully believe.
As a result, the majority of the population’s beliefs go unnoticed and have little influence on the overarching cultural narrative.
If you are getting your news from social media. The content you are viewing has been passed so many filters. You have the echo chamber filter, the demographics filter, the outrage filter and the algorithm filter.
It’s nigh impossible to get content online that is not skewed one way. Unless you have a social network that representative user base that matches the general population. With everybody participating in making content. This will be impossible to do.
I hope people will eventually understand the social media is not real life. Your WhatsApp message may not be true. A cherry-picked quote does not represent all the opposition.
Social Media To Improves One’s Life, Not Live In It
This is not to say social media is bad and you should avoid it at all costs. But to be aware that there is a demarcation line between the online world and real life. Sometimes the line will get fuzzy. Where times the online world crosses the real world and vice versa. This trend will only continue as time goes on. But you will know not to get upset at outrage hustlers. And have fair judgements of the world based on representative sample size. Not a people bored people on Twitter or Facebook.
This is also not to say that we should just accept the social media will be crazy. Social media companies have taken steps to deal with disinformation. (Which can backfire a few times).
Social media is a great tool to meet new people to connect with loved ones around the world. The world is a better place with social media. You follow various people interested in your hobbies and passion. And learn new stuff from them.
To take Cal Newport’s work we need to be more intentional about using social media. Watching outrage videos about the news of the day is low use of our time. But connecting to our favourite communities. Whether that’s your local wildlife, your favourite music instructors or your niche hobby of collecting train sets. We can get a lot more return on our investment if we think of social media as a tool. Not a place to live.
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